Saiichi Sugiyama, born in Asakusa, Tokyo, is a British-based guitarist, composer and singer, best known for his writing, production and performing collaborations with Pete Brown, the lyricist for Cream, since 2002 to date.
Sugiyama released his eponymous first album in 1994 backed by Phil Williams and Mike Caswell of Walk on Fire, Andy Smith of Hot chocolate, Cutting Crew’s rhythm section and Zoot Money. Playing on the London blues club circuit, Sugiyama’s on stage bands in 1990s at various times featured Boz Burrell of Bad Company, John Cook of Rory Gallagher Band, Sam Kelly and the guitarist Paul Wassif. The album received airplay by Paul Jones and Sugiyama supported Eric Bell, appeared on Live TV and jammed with Otis Grand and members of Jeff Healey Band at Roadhouse in Covent Garden.
After a three year hiatus, Sugiyama began playing the London circuit again with David Hadley-Ray, Darby Todd and Vic Martin backing him. In 2001, Pete Brown, whom Sugiyama met through David Hadley-Ray, began appearing on Sugiyama’s shows playing percussion and singing Cream numbers that he had written. After recording four Cream songs with Sugiyama for a Japanese label for its tribute compilation in 2002, Brown toured Japan with Sugiyama in 2002 and 2004.
Brown co-wrote and produced Sugiyama’s albums “So Am I” (2004) and “SAIICHI” (2005). The studio band featured Clem Clempson, Zoot Money, Pete Brown, David Hadley-Ray and Simon Edgoose. Ben Matthews of Thunder engineered the albums and made a cameo appearance. Rietta Austin, Jim Stapley, Malcolm Bruce, Henry Lowther and Dave Moore also played on the albums. Pete Brown, Zoot Money, Paddy Milner, Ed Spevock appeared on London shows promoting Sugiyama’s albums, which included a party at Hard Rock Café in Park Lane in May 2005 following the last of Cream reunion shows. Sugiyama opened for the Yardbirds, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack and played Ealing Blues Festival, Colne Blues Festival British Stage, Respect Festival, etc.
Sugiyama since 2002 also collaborated with the late Mamoru “Mark” Horiuchi, the former lead singer of the Japanese rock band GARO, who had a number of chart hits in the Japanese in the early 1970s and was a formative influence on Sugiyama. Mark sang on several tracks on the album “So Am I” and Sugiyama appeared in his concerts in Tokyo in 2000s.
Sugiyama played guitar for Shana Morrison, the daughter of Van Morrison in UK tour band in 2006 and 2010 playing the Borderline, Robin 2 and New Roscoe, Leeds among others.
Sugiyama began working with a female singer to front his band in 2010, most notably Rietta Austin. The band have so far featured at various times Wayne Proctor, Sam Kelly, Dave Moore, Ben Reed, Lizzie Hibbert, Jade Foreman, Malcolm Bruce, Stuart Dixon, Will Johns and his son, Mune Sugiyama. The band supported Spike’s Full House tribute to Andy Fraser featuring Simon Kirke and Luke Morley at the Borderline in 2014, Kirk Fletcher’s 2015 UK tour and has been invited to play supporting Sharks at Annual Free Convention in November 2015.
Saiichi Sugiyama Band consisting of Rietta Austin, Ben Reed, Mune Sugiyama and Rick Biddulph released a studio live album “Smokehouse Sessions” in 2014 to a critical acclaim.
After its release, Sugiyama was introduced to the late Andy Fraser who expressed an interest in working with him playing the bass on and producing his songs. The collaboration resulted in Andy playing the bass on the Sugiyama composition “Melting Away” before Andy’s untimely death in March 2015.
Sugiyama’s son Mune took the producer’s chair to complete the “Melting Away” track with an epic string arrangements. It was released as a single in July 2016. Its video was featured as a track of the week by Classic Rock website. The release was supported by Saiichi Sugiyama Band UK tour featuring Rietta Austin (vo), Ben Reed (bs), Sturat Dixon (gtr) and Mune Sugiyama (dms, MD). After the tour, Mune and Saiichi Sugiyama began working on an album of new materials with Mune as the producer.
The 2017 spring and autumn tours were supported by the release of Mune’s 2017 remake of “Somewhere Down the Road” mixed with the renouned New York based Grammy winning engineer, Kirk Yano. The tours featured Monica George on lead vocals, Ben Reed on bass, Sam Grimley on keyboard and guitar along with Saiiichi and Mune.
2018 saw the band appearing on selected festivals around the UK and Saiichi returning to his roots touring as a solo acoustic singer-songwriter while the extensive work on the album has been continuing with Mune at the helm.
The album will feature Monica George and Lizzie Hibbert on lead vocals, Ben Reed on the bass and Sam Grimley on keyboard with string and horn sections is expected sometime in 2019.
Interview - Blues in Britain – Issue 142 October 2013
In August, shortly before a launch gig at Jagz in Ascot, Saiichi talked to Fran Leslie about the making of “The Smokehouse Sessions” album, his musical influences and his collaboration with lyricist and musician Pete Brown.